Halong Bay is probably the absolute top destination in Vietnam, and taking a cruise is the best way to enjoy it. That’s why I believe a complete review of my experience on the Halong Imperial Legend Cruise can be useful for many fellow backpackers.
The entire bay, which features thousands of limestone karsts and isles, is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
I spent a lot of time online looking for nice junk boat and I eventually decided on a 2 days 1 night package. My dear Lonely Planet suggested me to get at least a cruise above the 90$-100$ price range and so I did.
I found a good deal on Booking.com on the mid range Imperial Classic for around 150$ whereas their luxury option, the Imperial Legend was quite expensive, priced above 200$. After I purchased the cheaper option, I was upgraded for free to their superior offer, the Imperial Legend ! Thank you, very much appreciated 🙂
Now, wandering the streets of the Old Quarter in Hanoi you can find deals for as low as 30$.
You know the old saying, you get what you pay for.
This is especially true in Vietnam, and in Southeast Asia in general, where scam artists and dodgy agencies are literally everywhere.
Time to move on, let’s start from the early morning of the first day!
Halong Bay Cruise review | Day 1 – from Hanoi to Halong
Our guide was a Vietnamese guy around 35 years old with a very good English communication skills. He picked me up right at 8.15 in front of my hotel in Hanoi, Hoan Kiem District. The pick up service is free as long as your hotel is in the Old Quarter. As agreed, their nice van took us the the harbour and no money was paid, only stopping at a souvenir mega-store for around 20-25 mins.
The road connecting Halong with Hanoi is only a 75 km drive but it takes a whopping 3 or 4 hours to get to destination. There’re many reasons for that: very low speed limits, construction works, incredibly narrow roads and all kinds of vehicles using the same roadway. The whole way to Halong is nothing special: run down buildings and undeveloped areas as far as the eye can see. You can just take a nap.
Along the way, the guide was very nice and informed us about possible inconveniences of living and sleeping on a boat. Noise from the power generator, electricity available only in the evening as well as A/C, limited water supply are all minor nuisances you must accept considering the relatively small size of these junk boats.
What was definitely more interesting was the brief introduction to the various activities available such as:
- swimming (which I didn’t do because it was too cold)
- visit to a cave
- tai chi class
- cooking class
- karaoke (ehm..)
All activities are not mandatory of course and you can just choose to relax instead.
All the food is purchased at the market on a daily basis, according to the customers requests and allergies. So Kudos for that.
Halong Bay Cruise review | Day 1 – The Fun Begins!
When I visited the bay (end of February) the weather was around 20 C, not warm but not cold either.
The departure was set to be at 1 pm, so we sailed to the beautiful Halong Bay perfectly on time.
I had a cabin to myself in the upper deck which is the best since is less noisy and a inch away from the dining room.
Speaking of which, the food served aboard was absolutely fantastic. Maybe just a lil tight on quantity but excellent in taste and presentation. Master Chef fine dining kind of style!
WARNING : beverages are not included in the cruise price! 2 bottles of water are offered for free in the cabin.
after sailing for a while we stopped at a very nice spot, completely surrounded by isles. The sun came out right on time for the kayaking !
I just relaxed and chilled out on the upper deck for about 1 hour and at 5.30 fruit and watermelon juice was offered for free to all the passengers.
We anchored for the night and dinner was served at 7.00 pm on the dot. Afterwards I could choose between karaoke (passed) or fishing (tremendous failure).
I was concerned about sleeping on a boat. It was the first time for me ! However I can reassure you, the boat stays perfectly still once anchored you won’t perceive any jolting or swaying. No sea sickness at all. I slept wonderfully immersed in one of the most beautiful natural landscapes you can find in Asia.
Halong Bay Cruise review | Day 2 – Cave Tour and back to Hanoi
I kindly declined the possibility to have a tai chi class at 6.20 am (!!!) and I got up at 7.30 for the breakfast.
By the time I finished breakfast the junk boat arrived to the Hang Sung Sot Cave. The cave is illuminated with colourful led lights and it’s quite pretty.
The panorama of Halong Bay you can get out on the top of it is absolutely stunning. The guide lead us through the secrets and history of the cave which was quite packed with tourists from other cruises.
Wrap up of my adventure in Halong Bay
All in all I enjoyed the Halong Bay cruise. I read all kinds of negative reviews online..and I felt relieved to see everything going smooth. The Imperial Cruise was worth the price for the all around quality of the service. Food was excellent, my cabin was spotless and equipped with all I needed and more (is a boat not an hotel!), kayaking was fun, the scenery spectacular.
Unfortunately the weather wasn’t at its best but considering February is still winter in northern Vietnam I can’t complain (the south is hot like the hell though!). Moreover, Ha Long Bay is famous for the mist that covers its little islets, it’s really part of the magic atmosphere of the place. Just like the rice paddies in Guilin, China.
There are dozens of companies offering tours in Halong Bay. Take a look at travel forums around the net and try not to book anything below 100$ night/per person. Make sure the total price includes the entrance fee to Halong Bay Natural Park, as well as transportation from/to your accommodation. Beverages are not included in 99% of the offers, so bring your own drinks if you’re on a budget. Last piece of advice: if you want something different try to book a cruise to Bai Tu Long Bay, equally beautiful but less crowded.
Halong deserves a place on your bucket list. It’s alone worth a trip to Vietnam.
Hope you enjoyed my Halong bay Cruise review! If you’ve been there already or you’d like to visit it, feel free to leave a comment!
Tạm biệt !